Emergency officials break down tsunami response, no major problems reported

Waves arrived as expected early Thursday morning following an 8.3-magnitude earthquake off Chile the day before.

The temblor triggered a tsunami advisory for Hawaii with the potential for sea level changes and strong currents along all coasts.

Wave heights were in line with what scientists predicted, reaching three feet in Hilo, 2.2 feet in Kahului and less than half a foot in Nawiliwili, Kauai and Honolulu.

“As we watched this cross the Pacific before it got to Hawaii, we had a lot of readings that we looked and said, yeah that’s what the model said,” said Chip McCreery with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The state did not close small boat harbors and no damage was reported. However, people were urged to stay out of the water.

“Even though it’s a relatively small tsunami, we’re not expecting flooding on the land, those oscillations of sea level can be bigger than our tides and you’re talking about moving a lot of water over a time span of five, 10, 15 minutes, going from what is essentially a high tide to a low tide over a small amount of time,” McCreery said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said it was ready to help counties that needed it.

“The Big Island asked us to stand up civil air patrol to be ready in case it had to fly and warn people in remote areas. Maui actually launched a request to civil air patrol and it did fly to warn people in remote areas,” said Vern Miyagi with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

As tourists woke up in Waikiki to start their day, some apparently did not hear about the tsunami advisory that was in effect across the state.

Lifeguards reported for duty at 6 a.m. and got on bullhorns to tell visitors about the advisory. There were, however, no warning signs on the beaches.

Despite wave activity noticeably rougher earlier in the morning and hotel security patrolling the beaches, some surfers, swimmers and paddlers still ventured into the water.

Luckily, the waves did not get out of hand and Ocean Safety did not perform any rescues, however lifeguards spoke to many about the potential dangers of the ocean.

“Were there a lot of people out in the water even though they were advised not to go?” KHON2 asked.

“As usual, yes there were, but there was a lot of (life)guards doing public relations and making sure everyone knew what was at stake,” said Lt. Tony Ho with Honolulu’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division.

Tsunami wave heights lowered below advisory levels and continued to diminish, prompting the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to cancel the advisory shortly after 7:30 a.m.

The state reopened all low-lying, coastal state parks and forest areas at 8 a.m., although the city decided to keep Hanauma Bay closed Thursday and Friday as a precaution.

Even though the tsunami advisory was canceled, lifeguards will continue to keep a close eye on the ocean.

“If it hasn’t changed too much from yesterday, we’re expecting it to stay the same. If not, it’ll get a little bit more mellow as of tomorrow,” Ho said.

Officials said technology continues to improve, which helped with the forecast and prevented evacuations. They also credit strong relationships.

“Our relationships with the counties, understanding what their requirements are going to be and understanding how we provide those requirements to the right procedures,” Miyagi said.

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